A sense of just how threatening the Resurrection is to evangelical theologians may be ascertained from H. D. McDonald’s selective quotation from the generally excellent work by Walter Künneth, Theology of the Resurrection (1933; 1951; English, 1965). McDonald writes:
The point of the present chapter  has, we think, been sufficiently made. [We think not, if by that he means a validation of his own errant point.] It only remains to append [!] an extended reinforcing statement with the same import from Walter Künneth’s Theology of the Resurrection. Künneth [get this!] appears in his exposition to be on the verge of giving the resurrection overdue emphasis in relation to the cross, but in the following carefully composed passage he gives appropriate expression to the interrelation of the two events in God’s redemptive act for sinful man (The Atonement of the Death of Christ, p. 40, all emphases added).
Our own judgment is, however, quite the contrary. Right at the moment when Künneth was on the threshold of a resurrectionary breakthrough that actually would have given the true and therefore only “appropriate” expression to the interrelation of Messiah’s cross and resurrection, he becomes sadly delinquent in his very suggestive and pregnant exposition and argumentation. It is astonishing to behold pages of parturient ponderings that only bring forth a rehash of the same old errors, which, predictably, McDonald was able—meager as they are—to snag with his net. Disappointingly, Künneth was still in thrall to Lutheran formulas that obscured his otherwise exceptional clear-sightedness. His declension is all the more unfortunate because the English edition appeared only in 1965—several years after the classic of F. X. Durrwell, The Resurrection: A Biblical Study (French, 1950), appeared in English (1960, from 5th French edition), and after Markus Barth had shown such solid spadework in his Acquittal by Resurrection (1964). It is these latter unprecedented treatments that finally start to give due emphasis to the Resurrection in relation to the Cross, giving, in fact, long overdue appropriate expression to their interrelation. BUT THESE WENT TOTALLY UNNOTICED BY H. D. McDonald, WHOSE OWN BOOK APPEARED TWENTY YEARS HENCE, IN 1985! This appears to be nothing less than deliberate, pre-meditated neglect. Nor does McDonald cite Jürgen Moltmann’s classic, The Crucified God, who dances close enough to the edge of orthodoxy to glimpse the celestial city, too. Thus does McDonald give a bad example of damning by faint praise and fulsome prejudice, or perhaps simply overwrought preferentialism. But what excuse is there?
Furthermore, and most ironically, neither is there the slightest word in his some 350 pages about Paul Peter Waldenström, the leading theologian of Sweden at the time the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Evangelical Free Church were founded in America (mid 1880’s), the latter sponsoring Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where McDonald served as visiting professor for some years. Waldenström, arguably the theological dean of both these thriving denominations, expounded a very well elaborated and articulated theology of the Atonement in decided variance from McDonald’s. Why the passing over in disrespectful silence?
But McDonald’s coup de grâce is the chapter following the above selective quotation and deprecating remark about the peril of “overdue emphasis” in the Resurrection “in relation to the cross.” In his fourth and final chapter, “The Atonement and Experience,” in his first section, “concerned with what should be said about the atonement in the faith of the church,” McDonald says exactly nothing about the Resurrection—the word never appears!—evidently so as not to run the risk of “overdue emphasis”! Thus regardless of all his glowing tributes to the Resurrection as playing a significant role in the drama of redemption, when it comes down to performance time, the Resurrection doesn’t even rate a bit part; it never even makes it on stage! But after all, what should we really expect from the author of a book entitled “The Atonement of the Death of Christ”? We had been forewarned. The Resurrection is only an “extra,” if not a mere prop. All his fine words were but a deception…perhaps even to himself. His sincerity can hardly be doubted, but his attention to Biblical detail has much to be desired, thus he falls into Scripture-twisting.
Without a doubt, if McDonald had truly understood the absolutely integral and inextricably fundamental placement of Jesus’ resurrection in dealing with the problem of sin, he could not possible have written a chapter on “The Atonement and Experience” without so much as passing mention of it! This egregious instance of damning by faint praise, in effect, nullifies his previous chapter, “The Atonement and Resurrection.” The Resurrection, properly apprehended, makes an enormous intellectual, emotional, and motivational impact as the glorious prelude to the continuing exaltation of the obedient Son back to his beaming Father waiting to install him as Sovereign over the created universe and to bequeath him Wholesome Spirit in explosive power and magnitude to distribute earthward upon His newly-adopted children. This Spirit is the payoff for us and our experience of God’s Kingdom now. How could anyone possibly talk about it without mentioning Christ’s resurrection?
So for lack of understanding, McDonald appeals to “the mystery of the atonement” and glorifies “the darkness” he thinks surrounds it! Is he not projecting his own darkened counsel onto the open secret of the apostles’ proclamation? He insists that it “must” be this way! Why? So that any who doubt this may be silenced forthwith and never venture to search Scripture a bit more diligently for some light by the illumination of God’s Spirit? McDonald’s over-pious dogmatism is reprehensible. He is lulling his readers back to the Dark Ages! His sincerity only makes him the more soporific. Let’s snap out of it! He would make faith a servile lackey to “mysteries” and thus betray its rightful pedigree as the distinguishing faculty of God’s friends and adopted heirs, to whom He tells all!
But finally, and no less erroneous and reprehensible, is McDonald’s complete silence concerning the Wholesome Spirit in his slanted chapter on “The Atonement and Experience.” No surprise, however, for this too is a typical evangelical failing. He speaks unsoundly of the “experience of the atonement” (pp. 48ff), not apprehending that whatever experience we may enjoy in the wake of Messiah’s faithful obedience through death and out the other side is altogether the fruit of our getting the Spirit of Wholesomeness when we get immersed, by faith!
This whole sad scenario of a prominent evangelical theologian suggests strongly that without a proper and accurate emphasis on the redemptive reality of Messiah’s resurrection, the proper role of the Wholesome Spirit is also suppressed, to our great loss and experiential impoverishment. McDonald must then invoke inauthentic stand-ins to fill the shoes of God’s promised and inexpressible Gift! This is imitation experience. This is McDonald’s “Big Mac” version of the apostolic three-course steak dinner. [9/20/06]